The Path of a New Barrel
One of the coolest parts of our job is showing customers how a barrel is made. When you see barrels in a wine cellar, it’s easy to overlook the amount of technology and craftsmanship packed into each one. Reactions to a cooperage tour often result in a new appreciation for the process and have even been known to elicit some big “aha” moments from winemakers. What we don’t often get to share is the process before a barrel is made – when it’s just an idea. Today, we are taking a step back and telling the story of how a World Cooperage barrel concept comes into being. How each one of our 100+ profiles started as a thought and finished as a barrel.
World Cooperage is committed to consistency, innovation, and distinctive barrels. That means we keep our ears to the ground to stay in tune to winemaker’s needs. Our account managers are constantly assessing winemakers’ feedback during sales consultations and tastings.
We want to ensure there are no gaps hiding inside our barrel portfolio. If one of our account managers recognizes a unique need in the market, they spring into action, knowing once development begins, it can take 1, 2, 3… sometimes four years before a new product can hit the market. In a world of instant gratification that seems like a long time, but good things come to those who wait, right?
Once a new product idea gains traction, we hold a meeting of the minds to officially get it into play. Sales, management, R&D, marketing, production – it’s a lot of brainpower all in one room. First, we outline a strategy and brainstorm ideas on how to create a new barrel to achieve the target goal. No ideas are bad (at first), and when a few of the more solid ideas are developed, “bench trials”, or small-scale trials, are completed to determine which ones work best. Bench trials allow us to narrow down our list of ideas cost-efficiently at the beginning of the process versus building full-scale barrels that might not work out well. Pro tip: Work smarter, not harder.
While the bench trials are in process, our cooperage production team develops any new equipment or special processes necessary to create the barrel (ex: new planing processes were created for World Cooperage Dimension profile which features a groove-like surface on the staves). Our in-house rock stars (i.e., engineering team) are the best at figuring out how to make the equipment to reach our goals. They build the equipment in-house, from scratch. Admittedly, the Engineering Dept is always a crowd favorite on our cooperage tours.
Next, the bench trial winners are built into full-scale barrels and placed in winery cellar trials. Winery trials can then last six months to two years, depending on the varietal and barrel goals. During this time, we taste through the barrels periodically to assess development of the flavors and aromas. We also get feedback from the winemakers. In addition to relying on sensory data, we conduct chemical analysis on the wine to see the barrel impact… well, chemically. Matching up sensory + chemical stories allows us to assess how the barrel fits in World Cooperage portfolio and if it is hitting the target set at the beginning of development. It is fun to watch it all come together in the wine.
If the winery trial results are successful, our marketing team begins to concept logos and names for our new barrel and develops tasting notes from our team’s feedback. R&D sends over the final recipe to load into the system. Then production orders all the necessary packaging and trains their team on the new barrel.
Finally, the barrel is ready for its big debut – typically unveiled at Unified Wine and Grape Symposium, held each January in Sacramento, California. The new barrel rollout continues in other countries as their harvest seasons approach.
So, there you have it. How we develop new barrels for our portfolio. Kind of amazing how much time and effort goes into that unique barrel you have been using in your cellar for years, right? World Cooperage thrives on partnering with winemakers to solve their cooperage queries - it’s why we get up in the morning. Creating a new barrel or process to fill a unique organoleptic goal is our happy place.
Are you a winemaker with questions or in need of a barrel to hit a specific target? With over 100 toasts to choose from in our Profile Series, it’s likely we have a barrel that hits your target. If not, we will use our expertise to make one that does. Contact us for more information, we love to talk barrels + wine.
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